How to recognize, and avoid, reasoning biases due to "thinking shortcuts"

Rolf Dobelli - Harper Paperbacks - 2014 - 384 pages

The Art of Thinking Clearly

2021 December 04 | by Arduino Mancini Effective thinking

This book is part of the non-fiction related to cognitive psychology that studies reasoning errors and mental traps (heuristics and bias) we fall into every day.

For what reasons? The most diverse and not all negative.

Reasoning errors are often due to “thinking shortcuts“, called heuristics, which we constantly use during the day, and which greatly facilitate our life; however, on certain occasions, these shortcuts drive us into error (bias) and bring to light our cognitive limits.

What are the error situations we can run into?

The author has identified dozens of them, which you can easily scroll through in the summary.

This book has some distinctive features:

  1. Although referring to specific and authoritative studies, the author focuses primarily on the effects that cognitive errors can have on our decisions and personal performance;
  2. The chapters are short and can be read quickly and easily, which is particularly useful when identifying measures to avoid a possible critical situation;
  3. The author makes extensive use of critical thinking as a means to help the reader become aware of their own cognitive limitations, avoid at least the most common ones, and get out of the trap of easy illusions.

It is precisely the extensive use of critical thinking that might represent both a limitation and a strength at the same time; since, if on the one hand it helps us to unmask easy illusions, on the other it may undermine our dreams.

But if dreams can survive the test of critical thinking well,
they have a genuine chance of being realized.

Now, before going to the contents, here is a short video in which Rolf Dobelli, the author, introduces the book.





  1. Why you should visit cemeteries: survivorship bias
  2. Does Harvard make you smarter? Swimmer’s body illusion
  3. Why you see shapes in the clouds: clustering illusion
  4. If 50 million people say something foolish, it is still foolish: social proof
  5. Why you should forget the past: sunk cost fallacy
  6. Don’t accept free drinks: reciprocity
  7. Beware the ‘special case’: confirmation bias (part 1)
  8. Murder your darlings: confirmation bias (part 2)
  9. Don’t bow to authority: authority bias
  10. Leave your supermodel friends at home: contrast effect
  11. Why we prefer a wrong map to no map at all: availability bias
  12. Why ‘no pain, no gain’ should set alarm bells ringing: the it’ll-get-worse-before-it-gets-better fallacy
  13. Even true stories are fairytales: story bias
  14. Why you should keep a diary: hindsight bias
  15. Why you systematically overestimate your knowledge and abilities: overconfidence effect
  16. Don’t take news anchors seriously: chauffeur knowledge
  17. You control less than you think: illusion of control
  18. Never pay your lawyer by the hour: incentive super-response tendency
  19. The dubious efficacy of doctors, consultants and psychotherapists: regression to mean
  20. Never judge a decision by its outcome: outcome bias
  21. Less is more: the paradox of choice
  22. You like me, you really really like me: liking bias
  23. Don’t cling to things: endowment effect
  24. The inevitability of unlikely events: coincidence
  25. The calamity of conformity: groupthink
  26. Why you’ll soon be playing mega trillions: neglect of probability
  27. Why the last cookie in the jar makes your mouth water: scarcity error
  28. When you hear hoofbeats, don’t expect a zebra: base-rate neglect
  29. Why the ‘balancing force of the universe’ is baloney: gambler’s fallacy
  30. Why the wheel of fortune makes our heads spin: the anchor
  31. How to relieve people of their millions: induction
  32. Why evil strikes harder than good: loss aversion
  33. Why teams are lazy: social loafing
  34. Stumped by a sheet of paper: exponential growth
  35. Curb your enthusiasm: winner’s curse
  36. Never ask a writer if the novel is autobiographical: fundamental attribution error
  37. Why you shouldn’t believe in the stork: false causality
  38. Everyone is beautiful at the top: halo effect
  39. Congratulations! You’ve won Russian roulette: alternative paths
  40. False prophets: forecast illusion
  41. The deception of specific cases: conjunction fallacy
  42. It’s not what you say, but how you say it: framing
  43. Why watching and waiting is torture: action bias
  44. Why you are either the solution – or the problem: omission bias
  45. Don’t blame me: self-serving bias
  46. Be careful what you wish for: hedonic treadmill
  47. Do not marvel at your existence: self-selection bias
  48. Why experience can damage our judgement: association bias
  49. Be wary when things get off to a great start: beginner’s luck
  50. Sweet little lies: cognitive dissonance
  51. Live each day as if it were your last – but only on Sundays: hyperbolic discounting
  52. Any lame excuse: ‘because’ justification
  53. Decide better – decide less: decision fatigue
  54. Would you wear Hitler’s sweater? Contagion bias
  55. Why there is no such thing as an average war: the problem with averages
  56. How bonuses destroy motivation: motivation crowding
  57. If you have nothing to say, say nothing: twaddle tendency
  58. How to increase the average IQ of two states: Will Rogers phenomenon
  59. If you have an enemy, give him information: information bias
  60. Hurts so good: effort justification
  61. Why small things loom large: the law of small numbers
  62. Handle with care: expectations
  63. Speed traps ahead! Simple logic
  64. How to expose a charlatan: Forer effect
  65. Volunteer work is for the birds: volunteer’s folly
  66. Why you are a slave to your emotions: affect heuristic
  67. Be your own heretic: introspection illusion
  68. Why you should set fire to your ships: inability to close doors
  69. Disregard the brand new: neomania
  70. Why propaganda works: sleeper effect
  71. Why it’s never just a two-horse race: alternative blindness
  72. Why we take aim at young guns: social comparison bias
  73. Why first impressions deceive: primacy and recency effects
  74. Why you can’t beat home-made: not-invented-here syndrome
  75. How to profit from the implausible: the black swan
  76. Knowledge is non-transferable: domain dependence
  77. The myth of like-mindedness: false-consensus effect
  78. You were right all along: falsification of history
  79. Why you identify with your football team: in-group out-group bias
  80. The difference between risk and uncertainty: ambiguity aversion
  81. Why you go with the status quo: default effect
  82. Why ‘last chances’ make us panic: fear of regret
  83. How eye-catching details render us blind: salience effect
  84. Why money is not naked: house-money effect
  85. Why new year’s resolutions don’t work: procrastination
  86. Build your own castle: envy
  87. Why you prefer novels to statistics: personification
  88. You have no idea what you are overlooking: illusion of attention
  89. Hot air: strategic misrepresentation
  90. Where’s the off switch? Overthinking
  91. Why you take on too much: planning fallacy
  92. Those wielding hammers see only nails: deformation professionnelle
  93. Mission accomplished: Zeigarnik effect
  94. The boat matters more than the rowing: illusion of skill
  95. Why checklists deceive you: feature-positive effect
  96. Drawing the bull’s-eye around the arrow: cherry-picking
  97. The stone-age hunt for scapegoats: fallacy of the single cause
  98. Speed demons make safe drivers: intention-to-treat error
  99. Why you shouldn’t read the news: news illusion

Author Biography
A Note on Sources



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